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...Othello: Tragic Hero? Michael Charles Robinson ENGL 102 October 17, 2011 Ms. Charity Givens Othello: Tragic Hero? I. Introduction Thesis statement A. Thesis Statement II. Brief overview of Othello III. Aristotle and Othello A. Peripeteia B. Hamartia C. Anagnorsis D. Catharsis IV. Othello a tragic hero? A. Evidence supporting B. Not supporting V. Brief overview of “O” A. Comparison to original VI. Conclusion THESIS STATEMENT: Othello is a tragic hero because he mostly satisfies Aristotle’s four requirements for a tragic hero: peripeteia, hamartia, anagnorsis, and catharsis. Othello: Tragic Hero? The tragic play Othello, written by William Shakespeare has caused constant dispute on whether the main character Othello can be considered as a tragic hero or not. Othello is a tragic hero because he mostly satisfies Aristotle’s four requirements for a tragic hero: peripeteia, hamartia, anagnorsis, and catharsis. The exploration of different aspects of the Othello character will give the readers of this essay insight regarding whether Othello is...

Doubts about the Ghost, doubts about the ethics of revenge, doubts about the nastiness of Claudius, and doubts about the niceness of Hamlet, are a legacy of modern times which we need to hold fast to. But when the doubts become positive scepticism, we are as lost as we were when we supposed that the Ghost was guaranteed, that revenge was good, that Hamlet was noble and Claudius a rotter. Shakespeare, it may be said, looked at the past not only nostalgically but sentimentally. Yet those of his heroes who try to restore or even preserve the past, and oppose the future, Richard II, Brutus, Coriolanus, have an ineffectuality and a woodenness about them which betoken a grim historical realism on Shakespeare's part. It is in Hamlet above all of Shakespeare's plays that I find superbly and movingly presented an openness towards both past and future inwhich the possibility of restoration is balanced against the futility of trying. And this is not entirely because of the unbelievable interest of the mind which contemplates the task of bringing back the majesty of beauteous Denmark. It is also because of the great transcendental hypothesis which is the framework of the play, and the context in which past and future are seen. The sense of an order of distinction among people which is ratified in heaven, the sense that there is a communication between heaven and earth, the sense that there can be a cleansing act of violence which is both a punishment and a liberation, these are as powerfully present in the play as is the conviction that these things do not exist. Hamlet's groping attempt to make a higher truth active in a fallen world fails hopelessly. But just suppose we can entertain the possibility that he was within reach of a higher truth. 'What should we do?' he asks the Ghost. And of Horatio he asks, 'Is't not to be damned to let this canker of our nature come in further evil?' Wilson Knight, in that brilliant early essay of his, recognised the alien and inhuman prophet that Hamlet essentially is. And he repudiated him. Hamlet vexed and troubled the world and failed to change it for the better. But he continues, or he ought to continue, to vex and trouble us with the suspicion, and the fear, that although he never got there, he may have been after something worth having. It is not faith we need to understand Hamlet, but doubt about our own scepticism. We need just enough questioning to keep alive the openness of Hamlet's question to Horatio. 'Is't not to be damned to let this canker of our nature come n further evil?' And to be able to respond also to that other remark of his:

That there can be a distinction between a violence which purifies, and is acceptable, and all other forms of violence, which are out- lawed, must seem to us the most dangerous concept possible. Only among terrorist circles are differences of kind among acts of violence accepted. We don't accept capital punishment if only because as Saul Bellow's hero put it, 'Nobody's hands are clean enough to throw the switch'. But, difficult though it is for us, unless we can see some sense in an idea of authorised violence, there can be little hope of recapturing the tragic sense of the play Hamlet. Oddly enough, the nineteenth century, which had its own scruples about capital punish- ment, seems to have had too little doubt about divinely-sanctioned violence in Hamlet (apart from Ulrici and his followers of course) and to that extent they diminished the tragic balance of the play. Claudius ought to be killed, they felt: it was some terrible paralysis which prevented Hamlet from doing the deed. G. K. Chesterton saw the way things were going and in an essay of 1923 leapt to the defence of the older view. We could no longer apprehend the play, he claimed, because we had ceased to believe in punishment, and had substituted pity in its stead. 'The sort of duty that Hamlet shirked is exactly the sort of duty that we are all shirking; that of dethroning injustice and vindicating truth.'

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What the scholarship of this century has taught us is that the status of the voice which Hamlet hears is from first to last uncertain. The ambiguity of the Ghost is of fundamental importance. Shakespeare uses the great perplexity of his age about the origin and status of ghosts to indicate the treacherousness of a sense of communion with a higher world. Hamlet's own sense of this treacherousness seems nearly always underestimated. It is at the very end of Act II, at the conclusion of the 'rogue and peasant slave' soliloquy, that Hamlet openly expresses his fear that 'the spirit that I have seen may be a devil'. But it is on his next appearance, in, 'To be or not to be',that he most fully and profoundly expresses a much wider scepticism. He is once again in the despair of Act I, again longing for the oblivion of death. Since that time he has been given a mission, which he eagerly seized as being heaven-sent, to renovate the world by a single act. Now he rejects such a possibility. The alternative courses whichHamlet sets before himself in the first five lines of the soliloquy, asking himself which of them is the greater nobleness, are: to continue to endure the antagonisms of existence, or to escape from them in the only possible way, by the act of suicide. The only opposition which the individual can make against the mischances of existence is to take his life. No other act can end the sea of troubles. No other act can improve the condition of the world or the condition of its victims. By implication, the deed of revenge, as a creative act bringing earth nearer to heaven, is of no avail. Whether Hamlet kills the King or not, Denmark will continue to be as it is, a place of suffering ruled by fortune. If there is a nobleness in continuing to live, it is a nobleness of suffering, not a nobleness of reforming and transforming the world. This is exactly the view on the alternative o living or taking one's life put by Schopenhauer in his essay 'On Suicide'. Since no human act can improve the world and all acts contribute to its continued beastliness, Schopenhauer said that the only argument against suicide as a praiseworthy course must be that continued suffering is praiseworthy in itself.

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